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World's first mitochondrial donation baby born

3 October 2016
Appeared in BioNews 871

In a world first, the birth of a baby boy who was conceived using mitochondrial donation has been reported.

Mitochondrial donation involves conceiving a child with genetic material from three people - two parents and a mitochondrial donor - to prevent the inheritance of debilitating and sometimes fatal mitochondrial diseases.

'To save lives is the ethical thing to do,' Dr John Zhang, medical director of the New Hope Fertility Centre in New York, who carried out the procedure, told New Scientist.

The baby, born in April, was conceived using mitochondrial donation because the boy's mother is a carrier of Leigh syndrome, a mitochondrial disease which affects the brain, muscles and nerves. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited solely from the mother, and the couple's two previous children had both died from the condition.

The baby boy is reported to be healthy. Different tissue samples indicate an average level of 1.6 percent of mitochondria which carry the mutation; around 18 percent of mitochondria need to be affected to see symptoms of the syndrome. However, some are concerned that this could change over time, or differ between organs that were not sampled, such as the brain or the heart.

At present, the UK is the only country to have legalised mitochondrial donation. Yet the procedure was carried out in Mexico where, says Dr Zhang, 'there are no rules.' While many experts have welcomed the news, and anticipate it may encourage further research and legislation in the field, it has also raised concerns and debate within the scientific community.

Dr Dusko Ilic, a stem cell researcher at King's College London, told the Guardian: 'By performing the treatment in Mexico, the team were not subject to the same stringent regulation as some other countries would insist on. We have no way of knowing how skilful or prepared they were, and this may have been a risky thing to do.'

The baby was conceived using the maternal spindle transfer method, in which nuclear material is removed from an egg of the mother and is placed into an enucleated egg from the mitochondrial donor containing healthy mitochondria. The resulting cell, containing genetic material from both women, was then fertilised using sperm from the father.

Of the five embryos created this way, only one developed normally, and this one was implanted into the mother. So far only an abstract of this latest research has been published online. The research will be presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine meeting in Salt Lake City in October.

Dr Zhang has published a paper reporting on an earlier attempt to use mitochondrial donation in China in 2003, where no embryos survived to term.

25 September 2017 - by Jenny Sharpe 
A campaign has been launched in Australia to overturn laws preventing couples from accessing mitochondrial donation...
14 August 2017 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
A new approach to genetic analysis may lead to a faster way to diagnose mitochondrial disease...
14 August 2017 - by Georgia Everett 
The Food and Drug Administration has warned a US fertility doctor to stop marketing mitochondrial replacement therapy – a technique involving the creation of an embryo with DNA from three people...
19 June 2017 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
The fertility doctor who led the team which produced the world's first baby through mitochondrial replacement therapy is now looking to use the same technique in a commercial venture...
30 May 2017 - by Jen Willows 
The UK Court of Appeal has upheld the High Court's decision that an experimental treatment offered by a US doctor will not benefit ill baby Charlie Gard, and could cause significant pain and distress...
22 August 2016 - by Dr Özge Özkaya 
Chinese researchers say an IVF technique called pronuclear transfer can safely produce a viable pregnancy...
13 June 2016 - by Dr Özge Özkaya 
An extensive study examining human embryos created using mitochondrial donation has demonstrated that the technique does not adversely affect embryo development...
8 February 2016 - by Kirsty Oswald 
Clinical investigations of mitochondrial donation are 'ethically permissable', says a panel of experts reporting to the US Food and Drug Administration...
2 November 2015 - by Dr Katie Howe 
Regulations that came into force this week will enable the UK to be the first country in the world to allow the use of mitochondrial donation techniques during IVF...
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